Valerie Gruest

Untitled (2020)

Tape, acrylic and spray paint on craft paper
Dimensions Varied

This piece deals with ideas of identity, movement and trauma to the body. In an age where numbers are considered the greatest measure of success and value, I want to tackle the dehumanizing process of defining oneself through these symbols.

The Body Remembers (Series) (2019-2020)

Digital inkjet print, screenprint, oil, acrylic and spray paint
Dimensions Varied

Trauma isn’t static, it evolves and stays alive within us even as we heal past scars. This series represents the ways in which our body remembers what we have endured in life, especially repetitive movements, self-destructive thoughts and traumatic experiences.

Très Chic (2019)

Digital inkjet print and screenprint
Dimensions Varied

This piece challenges the rigid boundaries imposed on female bodies by socially constructed standards of beauty. By exploring trauma through struggles of body image, I define beauty as a changing and dynamic attribute. Contrary to popular belief, beauty is uninhibited.

Look At Their Eyes (2019)

Dimensions Varied

As many workers suffer from inhumane working conditions within the coffee production industry in Guatemala, the government hides reports of abuse and exploitation from the public. The installation protests these injustices against the positive backdrop of tourism in the country.

Chaotic Reality (2019)

Acrylic on paper and plastic
Dimensions Varied

This process painting is a reflection of trauma to the body through repetitive motion. Through different marks and gestures, it presents the body as fragile and resilient, showing how damage can be covered and appear transparent to the human eye.

Behind My Smile (2019)

Video Installation
Dimensions Varied
Click here to view video

My life behind closed doors was very different from what was portrayed in the public eye. I endured psychological, physical and sexual abuse growing up, but I was never able to speak up. I was hiding behind the fear forced upon me by my abuser, leading me to act like everything was fine when it was not. Now I stand tall and share my story through this piece – here is the truth behind my smile.

Artist Statement

I am a multidisciplinary artist who explores trauma through issues of race, gender and labor by means of visual art and installation. Originally from Guatemala, I am a Chicago based artist defining authentic identity through my practice – which manifests as emotions and past experiences. My work draws greatly from my background as an Olympic athlete, competing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in swimming, which resulted in a devastating shoulder injury that led to my retirement from the sport.

Within my work, I explore the ways in which my life experiences have augmented what we perceive as our reality. Individual realities represent what happens behind closed doors and away from the public eye. My authentic reality throughout my life has been completely different from what others have been able to see, as I endured psychological, physical and sexual abuse growing up. It wasn’t until three years ago that I was able to separate from my abuser to stop this cycle and process these events. I use the recollection of pain, jointly in mind and body, to deal with post traumatic stress in a cathartic way through my work. As a result, my practice has a heightened focus on sharing personal experiences in hope of creating dialogues around difficult topics to bring awareness and inspire a positive change in the world.

I work within two dimensional, including painting, drawing and printmaking, and three dimensional processes that become installations within an ephemeral space. I channel the body and movement through my pieces to show our connection to our past and present experiences through muscle memory. In my most recent work, I deal with ideas of identity, movement and trauma to the body through the use of numbers. Through this technique, I break down the dehumanizing process of defining ourselves according to our grades, time standards in a sport, moments in time, weight and economic value. As an athlete training 20+ hours per week, I became connected to my mind and physicality to such a degree that my body still remembers the trauma as well as repetitive movements it endured for years. As a result, my art practice incorporates active research as well as elements of my personal identity to represent an active exploration of my present existence – consisting of my own ways of coping and healing traumas that still reside in my body. My work has the intention to break down ideas of physical and mental confinement, cultural hegemony, and giving power to unheard voices – providing a platform to de-stigmatize and break down socially constructed beliefs by externalizing our most vulnerable mental states and traumatic experiences through art.

Through different artistic mediums, I want to share my personal experiences as a Latin American woman, researcher, Olympic athlete, artist and survivor in hope of positively affecting others who have gone through similar experiences. After a lifetime of living in fear, I want to show that you can overcome the adversities in your life by fighting back from darkness to build your own destiny.